Modern hold ’em raising epidemic

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2008) in Casino Player.

Most strong hold ’em opponents, even world-class ones, raise too frequently before the flop. They may still manage to win in the long run, but they’re sacrificing a great deal of extra profit.

This mistake comes from players trying to dominate the game. When you’re an aggressive, skillful hold ’em player, it’s only natural to want to put pressure on lesser foes by habitually raising. I teach that you should be selective about the hands you play in poker, but when you have an advantage, you often should maximize it by raising. That’s the essence of the so-called “tight, but aggressive” style of play that most professionals use. It’s the correct style, except…


Well, before the flop in hold ’em, tight-but-aggressive play is typically overused by serious players. I see the style employed too frequently in everyday games, in tournaments, and on television. Superior players seem to take great pride in attacking.

The problem is, in hold ’em, unlike most other forms of poker, so much of your hand is defined when three cards come all at once on the flop that you usually don’t have a big advantage until you see them. Should you ever raise before seeing the flop? Of course! In fact, you should do it quite often, especially in late positions. You just shouldn’t do it routinely; and you shouldn’t do it nearly as often as many experts recommend.

Remember, if you’re in an early position, unless you have a huge starting pair, you can always just call the big blind and not be sacrificing much in the way of profit. And it gets weirder: You can even just call with large pairs, inviting others into the pot and hoping another player will do your raising for you. In fact, you’ll often make more money with large pairs this way, frequently reraising when the action gets back to you. Because you’re in bad position in an early seat, with most other players acting after you on subsequent betting rounds, you’re not situated correctly to terrorize the table. Just calling and seeing what develops on the flop is often superior to raising.

And to answer a related question: In a full-handed game (eight to 10 players), a call with aces under the gun earns more than a raise. But that’s another analysis for another day. (And I often raise, anyway, just to maintain a lively image.)

Same money

Actually, an early-position pair of queens or jacks cries out for a raise more than a pair of aces or even kings. That’s because it’s more beneficial to drive away players with higher cards. With all other hands that you correctly decide to play, it’s probably true that you’ll make about the same amount of money in early positions, whether you raise or just call. And often you’ll fare a bit better overall by just calling. To be clear, medium-high pairs like nines and tens earn a bit more by raising early. So, I often exclude nines through queens from my just-call option and routinely raise. But, even then, just calling isn’t a disaster and won’t dramatically affect your overall results.

That’s why I mix up my early-position play before the flop in hold ’em, frequently choosing to just call. You should, too.

— MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


20 thoughts on “Modern hold ’em raising epidemic”

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  1. I see so much of that these days. Pre-flop raises are fine, but when they become predictable, the skilled opposition uses them as traps. Traps that can cost the raiser a lot of money over the course of a session. I love to check raise that betting station and punish him/her at every opportunity. So often,this throws them into confusion and they have a hard time adjusting their game. So keep raising every hand. Personally I love it.

  2. Watching Poker After Dark cash games, these guys almost always open the pot with a raise, which is probably one of the reasons why SirNordle and many others think “if it’s good enough for a call, it’s good enough for a raise”. The guys on that show (Ivey, Brunson, Dwan, Elezra) are considered some of the biggest sharks in poker. Why are these guys so intent on opening with a raise?

    1. It’s a mystery to me. And I’ve talked with each of them on occasions, but especially with Doyle Brunson. Raising is the right route much of the time, but not always. Many hands are good enough to routinely call with, but not adequate for raising regularly.

      1. Have you asked Chris Ferguson? He’s a big proponent of that logic, although I haven’t seen him say much to back up the reasons.

        I tried the “never open limp” thing for the past week and I’ve had mixed results. The other day I was running well and it worked, but anything would work while running well. Even then, I was pounding on one player, who was about ready to take a stand with any two cards. I wanted to open with KQ suited, so I raised and was reraised off my hand preflop. Would have been better to limp in and see a cheap flop. I can’t understand how “never open limp” works.

        1. I can’t really diagnose the K-Q suited situation with the information provided. However, depending on position and circumstances, you’d sometimes raise, sometimes call, and sometimes fold.

    2. Maybe because the sharks know how to exploit the tight/passive players due to stats like limping range in a certain position…maybe it’s helpfull to Watch some vids about hud statistics and how to use it!(James Sweeney aka splitsuit)

  3. I raise any hand I’m willing to play, except maybe limping early with a big hand and praying some1 else raises so I get the chance of reraising to isolate the pot. Always believed if it’s good enough for a call it’s good enough for a raise.
    Unless I’m late position with 4 or 5 limpers and I have nice suited connectors this justifies a call cause the more ppl in the pot when I hit a flop with something like 9 T suited the better, vital u make a decent hand tho cause top pair crumby kicker probably won’t be good enough and will be easily folded.

    1. Hi, SirNordle —

      Thanks for your comment. You wrote, in part: “Always believed if it’s good enough for a call it’s good enough for a raise.”

      Now I’m going to save you a lot of money by giving you a training exercise.

      Write down everything you can think of logically to support your assertion above. Think hard.

      Now try this statement: “Some hands are strong enough to justify a call, but not a raise.” Write down everything you can think of logically to support that assertion. Think hard.

      That’s it.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. I usually only allow myself to raise or reraise when I think I have a percentage advantage. Often, I still don’t raise, because I could make more money by calling. Consequently, I’m not raising very often. Should I be raising for other reasons than strength here and there?

  5. Against players that don’t respect your raises, do you limp more often? Especially in short handed or heads up games where they assume you never have anything?

    1. Hi, Jon —

      It depends on the type of raise, as defined by its intention.

      If you have a very strong hand against the opponents you describe, you should be more willing to raise, because you’re likely to be rewarded with a call.

      If you’re raising as a bluff or hoping to limit the field (not usually a good idea, by the way), you should probably reconsider, due to the nature of those opponents.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

    1. Hi, Brandon —

      The idea is to not be raising at all “out of position” — assuming you mean that it’s a position from which the hand should not be played. However, I suspect you mean an early position, relative to other opponents who wait to act during multiway action.

      In that case, there’s still no absolute answer. If your goal is to scare players away, usually raise a bit more than average. If you have a decent edge and want profit, then you should always estimate what a “fair price” would be and then add as much extra as would make the hand most profitable if you replayed that same situation a million times or more.

      I wish there were simple answers to questions like this one, but there aren’t. Too many factors sway the decisions.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  6. Hi Mike,
    How often will limp or raise with small cards from early position to prevent opponents from easily reading your hand? Is playing small pairs enough to disguise your play? Do you feel it's necessary to occassionally play strange hands like 83 to disguise your play like some authors suggest?

    1. Actually, Bill, I sometimes do play hands like 8-3 offsuit. But that's against weak opponents that I'm trying to coax and confuse into making even weaker calls in the future.

      Playing many moderately weak hands in these cases doesn't advertise as powerfully as just one or two ridiculous hands.

      Straight Flushes,

      Mike Caro

  7. Mike- how often will your raise with a pair of Jack or Queen cause a higher pair to fold? I can under stand a hand with 10 pair or less folding? Please clarify. The best- Nelson.

    1. Hi, Nelson —

      The primary argument for the raise isn't that it will cause a higher pair to fold (though it might rarely). The argument is that it's quite likely to cause some unpaired ranks with a card (or both) higher than the pair to fold, reducing the chance that the board will contain another of those ranks, beating the high pair.

      Straight Flushes,

      Mike Caro

  8. That story sounds like me at seabrook dog track playing holdem
    I only had one good hand all night, and I won it, but eventally I was blinded off. Oh well!

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